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Why traditional forms of networking don’t work

Networking has never really been my thing. And I could never quite figure out why…

I mean I LOVE people. I love TALKING to people and hearing their stories. I enjoy meeting new people and forming lasting relationships. I like helping people and suggesting ideas. And I love to collaborate with people who hold common interests.

I was the child in the playground who would walk up to a complete stranger and make friends with them instantly. I’ve never been afraid of talking to new people or introducing myself to a group I don’t know.

For all intents and purposes, I really SHOULD love networking events! But I’m afraid to say, this is not the case.

In fact, I balk at the idea of attending a ‘networking event’.  So WHY is this?

A few years ago while I was living in Melbourne, I decided I needed to find out exactly why networking events didn’t sit well with me.

I put my hand up for a business networking function for the media industry which was at a trendy bar on a Thursday afternoon after work.

I made it to the event, stood in line and then stood behind a table and waited for my name tag to be handed to me. My name was spelt wrong, and even though I didn’t particularly mind, the lady was apologetic and hustled with a pen to cross out the mistake.

I considered whether I even needed a tag.

At these kinds of functions you meet so many people in the space of one night – you could easily forget every single person you meet, including their name and what they do.

So what was the point of ‘networking’ if you can’t remember people’s names after an event designed specifically to connect you with other people!?

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Interesting right?  Hold that thought.

Let’s get back to my night…

I walked into the room and walked up to a small bar table where two men and a woman were talking. They were mid-conversation, so I smiled, and stood quietly alongside them until they finished.

(Now for anyone in this position, standing and waiting for a conversation to end, it can feel like hours pass while you stand there, but really, it’s only probably a minute or two, so just be patient, smile and be genuinely interested in what they are talking about).

Once they’d finished, I introduced myself. They were all very friendly, with big smiles and ready for a fun night.

I thought to myself at this point, ‘This might not be so bad after all!’

The conversation skipped through various topics from drinks to the key speaker… and then they asked me what I did.

I explained I was a senior designer who was passionate about branding. I had hardly said the word “branding” before their eyes glazed over.

The lady seemed interested and continued to ask me questions about a project I was working on. One of the men was looking around the room for someone else he could talk to; completely disengaged with what I had to say.  While the other man reached for his phone.

Not only did I feel small, unwelcome, and uninteresting – I started to self destruct.

Was I not interesting enough? Am I talking too fast? Too slow? Is it because my makeup isn’t touched up?

Completely irrational thoughts were entering my mind and causing me to disengage from the present.  

I had a lady in front of me who seemed somewhat genuinely interested in what I was talking about.  But because I got caught up in my own thoughts and insecurities, I lost my confidence and the lady in front of me lost interest (understandably!)

Incidentally, the man who’d been on his phone the whole time looked up and said, “I’m going to get a drink. Lovely to meet you. Do you have a card?”

A card!? I thought. But we haven’t even spoken yet?

—–

When you’re in the zone at a networking function, you can easily fall into the trap of what I like to call ‘the wedding reception’ – that is, when you go to a wedding reception and you know everyone there and you spend the whole night talking for five minutes with everyone but never really feel like you’ve actually engaged with anyone properly.

That’s exactly what happens at traditional networking functions.

Too many people in one room; all fighting to talk to as many people as they can, collecting as many cards as they can, just so they can throw them in the bin later.

Which face went with which card?  Was that gentleman’s name Eddie or Michael?

Fast forward to the end of my night.  I got home and sadly (but not surprisingly) I didn’t stay in touch with any of the people I had met that night.

But there are a few lessons I learnt from traditional forms of business networking which I thought I would share with you:

1. Only go to networking functions where the organisers cap the limit of people. I think 25-40 is a good number.

2. Place priority on events where connection is a focus. My favourite is the “Business in Heels” Event, where the organisers focus on forming authentic connections and actively help people talk to a small group of people rather than everyone in the room. I also love going to local lunches with small groups of likeminded people, where friendship and support for each other in business is a focus, rather than the “just there for business”

3. If you are organising an event, think about ditching the name tags! Crazy, I know… but people will make far more effort to start conversations if they can’t rely on a name badge to prompt them. It also means people will feel less awkward. And there’s no misspelled names!

4. While attending an event, make sure you are present. Focus on where you are and who you’re talking to. Use eye contact and active listening skills. Be genuine. 

5. Make it personal. You don’t have to get into the fine details of a person’s life, but spend time genuinely getting to know the person you’re speaking to. Ask questions about them; what’s their passion, what got them into business and what drives them on a day to day basis.  Who knows! You might have made a new friend by the end of the night. You’ll remember them and they’ll no doubt remember you!

I’d love to hear about some networking events you’ve been to which focus on authentic connections – share them for our readers by commenting below…

Or do you know someone in business who would love this post? Why not share it with them?

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